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Detroit — Mike Babcock traded Hockeytown for the Center of the Hockey Universe.

Babcock made his long-awaited decision regarding his future Wednesday and decided to take a monstrous offer from the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The contract is an eight-year contract worth $50 million, a $6.25 million per year average — Babcock is reportedly able to opt out after five years — a huge acquisition by Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan, the former Red Wings player, making Babcock among the highest-paid coaches among the four major team sports.

Babcock, 52, had become the biggest free-agent story in the NHL, as his contract with the Red Wings was to expire on June 30.

The Red Wings' final offer to Babcock was a five-year contract worth $20 million ($4 million per season).

As compensation, the Red Wings will receive a third-round draft pick from Toronto within the next three seasons, given Babcock left before his contract with the Red Wings expired.

Shanahan interviewed Babcock in early May and then made a last-ditch effort during the last few days that convinced Babcock to undertake the massive rebuild.

Babcock coached the Red Wings for the last 10 seasons and made the playoffs every time, winning the Stanley Cup in 2008 (and losing to Pittsburgh in Game 7 the next year).

In that 10-year span the Maple Leafs made the playoffs only once, losing in the first-round to the Bruins in 2013. They haven't won a Stanley Cup since 1967.

General manager Ken Holland gave Babcock an opportunity to explore other coaching opportunities in early May and Babcock was pursued by Toronto, Buffalo, San Jose and St. Louis, among others.

Buffalo is believed to have been offering a long-term contract approaching $40 to $50 million total but dropped out of the bidding Wednesday morning.

With the Maple Leafs, Babcock inherits a rebuilding team with few building blocks.

But the challenge — along with the contract — to bring the Maple Leafs to Stanley Cup glory may have proved to be too much for Babcock to pass up.

Babcock had shown concern about the Red Wings' aging core – Pavel Datsyuk will be 37 in July, Henrk Zetterberg 35 in October, and Niklas Kronwall 35 in January) – with no suitable replacements.

With Babcock leaving, the Red Wings' replacement would likely be Jeff Blashill, currently coaching the Red Wings' minor league team in Grand Rapids.

Blashill coached the Griffins to the Calder Cup in 2013 and has coached the majority of the present Red Wings roster – either in Grand Rapids, or one season spent as an assistant under Babcock with the Red Wings.

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/tkulfan

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